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HIGHLEY (0748) 861203 338413 PENNA. HIGHLEY 


/tan *v ^tW/ y**s* tfipw"* 

I "he Author with the 
first l oolmakers of 
The Highlcy Pen 
( -ompanv. 

I he Author with UK- 
original Stall' oi 
I he Highley I "en 



I ron! view of the offices and factory of 
D. Leonard! & Co. (Highlcy I'cnsJ Ltd. 1983 

1930 - 1980 

A record of the principal Manufacturers 
A description of Manufacturing Processes 
An insight into Selling Practices 





Printed by.- Central Office Supplies Telibrd 



Towards the end of the 19th century the book entitled "The Story of the 
Invention of Steel Pens", with a description of the manufacturing processes 
by which they were produced, was written and published by the late Mr. 
Henry Bore. This book was given to me by my Father when I entered the 
steel pen trade in 1930 and I have found, like many others, that it is an 
excellent recording of the subject from the year 1822 when steel pens were 
first made on hand presses, up to the date of publication approximately 60 
years later. 

As I have said Mr. Bore completed his book towards the close of the 19th 
century and 100 years have now passed since the book was published. 

I can divide my experience into two parts, the first part was from 1930 to the 
outbreak of war with Germany after which there followed a gap of seven 
years, 3Vi years of which I spent as a Territorial Officer in Japanese Prisoner 
of War Camps. The second phase of my industrial experience stretches 
from my de- mobilisation to the present day. 

During the first period I ran my Father's business of T. Hessin & Company 
which although still registered as a Private Company no longer manu- 
factures pens. After the war I founded the Highley Pen Company in the 
village of Highley and in 1 949 merged this business with the old established 
business of D. Leonardt & Company and thus D. Leonardt & Co. (Highley 
Pens) Ltd., came into being. 



I think at the outset it might be a good thing to place on record the names of 
the Manufacturers of pens (and by this I mean steel and non-ferrous metal 
pen nibs) in the year 1930 when I entered my Father's business ofT. Hessin 
& Company in Wheeleys Lane, Birmingham, where we manufactured 
between 10,000 and 15,000 gross of pens per week. 

At that time, and I give them in alphabetical order, the following firms were 
manufacturing pens and all of them had their factory in Birmingham, 
except E.S. Perry. 

1. Baker & Finnemore Ltd. 

2. British Pens Ltd. 

3. C. Brandauer & Co. Ltd. 

4. Joseph Gillott & Sons Ltd. 

5. T. Hessin & Co. 

6. Geo. W. Hughes 


7. D. Leonard! & Co. 

8. Macniven & Cameron Ltd. 

9. John Mitchell 

10. M. Myers & Son Ltd. 

11. Perry Pens Ltd. 

12. E.S. Perrv Ltd. 

One of the smaller Manufacturers and in terms of output about equal to 
that of my Father's Company T. Hessin & Company. They were owned 
and run by the Barnwell family and I knew Mr. Arthur Barnwell and his son 
Edward who, alas, died at a comparatively early age. 


One of the largest companies run by Mr. Studdy Hooper and afterwards by 
his son Brian Hooper and in 1930 embraced two well known firms, William 
Mitchell and Hinks Wells and occupied substantial premises in Bearwood 
Road, Smethwick. The firm of William Mitchell had for many years been 
famous for lettering pens, and like Joseph Gillott, pens for artists' use, that is 
drawing pens and lithographic pens, and this name is still famous 
throughout the world for these specialist products. At that time, in 1930, 
British Pens were the second largest firm of pen makers and had developed 
a very considerable business in making parts other than pens, such as metal 
parts for the hosiery trade. 


Occupied premises in New John Street West and had a number of very well 
known pens which sold throughout the world. This Company was owned 


and run for many years by the Petit Family at this time a descendant Mr. 
Adrien Petit is Chairman of the Company. 


Occupied Victoria Pen Works in Graham Street, Birmingham, so named 
after a visit by Queen Victoria in whose honour a mahogany staircase was 
erected. In the early 30's the head of the firm was Mr. Bernard Gillott but 
after the second world war his son, and my friend and contemporary, 
Nicholas Gillott took over the direction of the Company. There was always 
a certain rivalry, which is referred to in the book by Mr. Bore, between 
Gillott and Mitchell as to who actually started the manufacture of steel 
pens, but the year was 1822 and it is not for me 160 years later to act as 
arbitrator in this matter. Suffice it to say that John Mitchell and Joseph 
Gillott were the first to manufacture pens on hand presses. 


Owned by my Father the late Mr. T.H. Charles and apart from pens had 
very few other outlets. We found our business to a great extent in the 
cheaper range of the market and this will be understood more fijlly when I 
discuss the various outlets. 


Again a private firm which had been founded by Mr. George W. Hughes 
and at the time I came into the trade it was run by his son Roderick Hughes. 
Mr. Hughes produced pens of the highest quality and was a specialist in 
metallurgy, heat treatment and all the different processes which made up a 
steel pen. He was also widely travelled and was a student of far eastern 
languages. A particular feature of George W. Hughes was that they never 
made pens which did not bear their own imprint, a policy which stood them 
in good stead in later years. 


Again a private company, a partnership as opposed to a Limited Company, 
between Mr. Hewitt and Mr. Charles Leonardt who occupied premises in 
Charlotte Street, Birmingham, ofFSummer Row. They manufactured pens 
of the highest quality and their export market extended to South America 
and to the Eastern countries of Europe. I shall refer to this company later in 
my book because a merger was formed in 1949 between my own company 
and D. Leonardt & Company. 


Run in 1930 by Mr. Duncan Cameron whose brother Waverley Cameron 


ran the printing works in Edinburgh.Perhaps Macniven and Cameron are 
best remembered by the advertisement which appeared for many years on 
railway stations which read 'They come as a boon and a blessing to men, the 
Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen', even today this clever 
advertisement is remembered by many people. 


A firm , as distinct from either a private or public limited company, the 
proprietor of which was Mr. Henry Mitchell. The day to day running of the 
business was conducted by his son Eric Mitchell. This firm occupied a large 
site in Moland Street, Birmingham, close to the Birmingham General 


Again an old company of moderate size which made a substantial weekly 
quantity of pens, but which in later years wisely developed their business in 
other directions and are now famous the world over for the 'Bull Dog' letter 
clip and make a wide variety of pressings for shops, including shop fittings. 
In 1930 this business was run by Mr. Ronald Myers and my contemporary 
is his son Malcolm Myers who has led the business very successfully for a 
great many years. 


When I entered the trade they were the biggest manufacturers of pens in the 
world and occupied very substantial premises in Lancaster Street, 
Birmingham and the head of the firm was Mr. Oliver Smith who was of an 
older generation than I but whose son John Smith I got to know very well as 
I grew up in the trade. 


This Company was founded by Mr. Edmund Perry in 1921 and he had two 
sons, Michael and James. James actually produced the nibs and Michael 
was responsible for the marketing and administration. The factory of E.S. 
Perry is based in Gosport and still produces high quality hand finished 
stainless steel nibs. These are marketed as fountain pens and specialist 
fountain pen sets under the Osmiroid brand and enjoy a world wide 




In chapter one I have, to the best of my belief, listed the Manufacturers of 
pens as they existed in 1930 when I entered the trade and in my next chapter 
I feel that I should devote space to the raw material used and the 
manufacturing processes, as they were carried out in the early days, 
followed in a later chapter by the effect which automation has had in the 
20th Century. 

A rolling mill tor producing (he 
correct gauge of sled 

The type of steel used in the manufacture of steel pens has not materially 
altered since the days of its invention and the following is a typical analysis:- 

Spring Steel CS/70 

Carbon Silicon Manganese Sulphur Phosphorous Iron 
Min. 0.65 0.05 0.50 BAL 

Max. 0.75 0.35 0.90 0.045 0.045 BAL 

In the early days it was a recognised practice for the older 
Manufacturers to buy in steel in the hot rolled condition, in short lengths, 
and roll it down themselves to the thickness which they eventually required 


for each particular nib. The practice in 1930 was to buy steel in coils from 
the well known manufacturers in Sheffield This was an important change 
and a great step forward because in 1930 by reason of the fact that the steel 
was supplied in coil form by the Manufacturers, it was possible to feed it 
automatically through power presses, which resulted in the combination of 
operations, which hitherto had proved impossible. The thickness of carbon 
steel used for pen making varies from .003" for the manufacture of 
Lithographic or Drawing Pens to .025" for the manufacture of Manifold or 
Copying Pens. Most pens are made from steel .009" — 010" thick. 



F.mhotntig. Raising. Grinding. Stirring. 

An illustration taken from Henry 
Bore's book, showing steel scrap 
after blanks have been cut out. The 
steel has been reversed and put 
through the cutting tool twice so 
that the points of the pen are 
interlaced, thus reducing scrap to a 




The following are the operations which had to be carried out to 
manufacture a steel pen and in the following pages I shall try to give an 
account of each in some detail. 

1. Cutting or Blanking 10. Grinding 

2. Piercing 11. Slitting 

3. Annealing 12. Point forming 

4. Marking 13. Polishing 

5. Embossing 14. Colouring 

6. Raising 15. Lacquering 

7. Hardening 16. Looking over 

8. Tempering 17. Boxing 

9. Scouring 


Blanking of pens 
trom strip on 
hand presses. 
Circa 1850 

In the early days the blanking or cutting operations were performed by 
women who fed steel strip through a hand press in approximately six foot 
lengths. Originally the blanking operations simply produced a plain blank 
which subsequently had to be formed up into the finished shape of the pen. 
The length of steel which had been sheared to the correct width to suit the 
overall length of the pen was pulled from the back to the front of the hand 
press by the operator and each nib was blanked out by means of a punch 
entering a die. Around the punch was mounted what is known as a stripper 
which had the effect of freeing the scrap material from the cutting punch so 
that the steel could be pulled forward to cut the next blank. The distance 
which the steel could come forward was controlled by what was known as a 
finger stop and the bar, or scrap material between each blank, came to rest 
on this stop before the operator made the next blow. As I have said the only 
operation being performed was that of plain blanking without a mark or 
pierce hole, but there was one exception to this, for in many cases an 
identification was put on the edge of the blank known as a raising bit, and 
this was achieved by filing a small recess in the edge of the cutting punch. 
The object of this will be better understood later on, but its purpose was to 
give the Raisers a means of identification so that they did not raise the pens 
upside down after they had been marked. In the majority of factories the 
Cutter, as she was called, generally cut 1 30 gross, or 1 8,720 nibs into a metal 
work pan which was supported underneath the press, and this was known 
as a lot'. 


In nearly all steel pens there is a pierce hole in the centre of the pen and very 
often ornamental piercing or side cracks, the purpose of all of which is to 
give flexibility to the nib when it has been finished. Again in the early days 
pens were pierced on hand presses and the operator or Piercer used to pick 
up the nibs one by one and place them over a piercing bed locating them 
by means of adjustable guides which ensured that the pierce hole would be 
placed exactly centrally in the pen. As in the case of blanking as each pen 
was pierced the piercing punch came up and was released from the pen by 
means of a stripper. It was the duty of the piercing toolmaker to see that at 
all times the piercing tool was kept properly ground so that no burr 
appeared on the edge of the pierce hole. 


When the pens were blanked out and pierced the raw material was in a hard 
rolled condition because it is easier to maintain a burr free blank and to 
pierce a burr free hole from hard material than it is from soft material and 
the next operation was the annealing of the pierced blanks prior to the 
marking operation. 


Annealing was done in the following manner. -The blanks were packed into 
what were called annealing pots which in the early days were made of cast 
iron, and the pens were laid on top of one another and with a pommel they 
were kept in the flat condition. When the pot had been filled a plate was put 
on top of the blanks and was held down by a spring. The inner pot as it was 
called was then inverted and put into an outer pot head first, after which the 
gap between the inner and outer pot was filled up with silver sand. The 
annealing pots were then ready to go into the annealing furnace which at 
that time was heated by coal. The pens were brought up to a temperature of 
700° C and were soaked for two hours. The furnace was then turned off and 
the pots were allowed to cool down inside the furnace overnight. Next 
morning they were withdrawn and were in a fully annealed condition. The 
fact that they had been protected from the atmosphere by reason of the 
inner and outer pots meant that they were still free of scale and were ready 
for the fourth operation which was the process of marking. 


Marking stamp 
for pens. 
Circa 1850. 

Regrettably this process placed the operators at considerable risk and I am 
happy to say that nowadays this has been completely eliminated. In the 
early days, however, a pen was marked by means of an operator who picked 
up the blank which had now been pierced and annealed, and placed it in a 
guide in the marking stamp. This stamp consisted of a foot operated stirrup 
and a pulley wheel over the marking tool . A weight was then lifted by the 


operator by means of the foot pulley and when a pen had been placed in the 
guides she released the pulley and allowed the weight to crash down upon 
the correctly located blank. As the Reader will understand it was inevitable 
that from time to time the operator inadvertently left her finger over the pen 
when freeing the weight and as a result many crushed fingers occurred 
which thankfully are now a thing of the past 


Most pens were marked, but under my heading of Operations I have 
included a process of embossing. Many of my Readers will be familiar with 
the famous 'J' pen which had a capital 'J' embossed on the centre of the pen. 
This embossing was done in the same way as the marking, but it was done 
with a Male and Female tool which produced a clearly visible raised capital 
letter such as the J. Regrettably the same risks which applied to the 
marking operation also occurred in the operation of embossing. 


The raising, or forming operation, was described by Mr. Henry Bore with 
great accuracy in his book and it is true to say that 100 years later the same 
process is followed. In his book Mr. Bore explains with great clarity how the 
raising tools are assembled, but I think the extreme skill which was required 
by raising tool makers to produce the correct shape needs clarification. 


When I first entered the trade there was great rivalry between the raising 
joolmakers and the cutting toolmakers. The cutting toolmaker always said 
'any fool could raise it', whereas the raising toolmaker used to say 'there is 
nothing in cutting out a blank, the greater skill rests in the forming of that 
blank'. My sympathies I must confess are with the raising toolmaker. For 
example, if one was requested to produce a pen that one had never made 
before, the toolmaker you first approached was the Raising Toolmaker to 
whom you gave the sample, with the request: "Please develop a blank." 
This toolmaker had the skill to make a raising tool which would produce the 
shape of the sample. To do this he had to create his own blanks, which 
required him to take a piece of steel or metal and file it by hand until he 
created the correct blank to produce the finished article. Having made his 
raising tool he tested the filed blanks in it until he established the correct 
size of blank, after which he said to the Cutting Toolmaker, "I want a blank 
of those dimensions." The Cutting Toolmaker, because of his experience 
and skill and because he was able to copy the blank which the raising 
Toolmaker had filed up, was able to produce a cutting tool which produced 
blanks suitable for the Raising Toolmaker, although he was not concerned 
with the original development. 

To raise a pen one must have a raising tool, both punch and die, but one 
must also remember that there must be a gap between the punch and die to 
allow for the thickness of raw material which is being used for the 
manufacture of the pen. If the punch and die exactly fit one another the 
effect will be a squeeze which as applied will make the raw material thinner 
on each side of the pen. The method used therefore to make a raising tool 
was first of all to make a drift, and these master drifts were greatly cherished 
by the raising toolmaker, who had filed them up by hand, and had hardened, 
tempered and polished them so that he could produce from them a raising 

The way in which this raising die was made was to cut oflfa section of steel, 
in my day it was Jessops best cast water hardening steel, and to heat it to a 
temperature of around 800 C C. This piece of steel was then put into what 
was known as a 'drifting press' and the drift which the toolmaker had made 
was driven into it and formed a shape. The raising bed was at this stage red 
hot and as soon as the shape had been imprinted into it by the raising drift, it 
was removed from the drifting press and put under a quench and a jet of 
water was directed into the centre of the raising bed which hardened it. I 
shall describe this in more detail when I discuss the question of hardening 
and tempering. 


The raising toolmaker then took the bed which had been drifted, cleaned it 
and polished it, and then manufactured a punch which fitted the internal 
radius of the component which was to be raised, and this punch was smaller 
by the extent of the thickness of raw material of the pen than the raising 
drift. The raising toolmaker then had a punch and a bed which Mr. Bore so 
rightly describes fitted in a hand press. The bed was fitted in a bolster and 
the punch in what was known as a 'false nose'. 

As in the case of piercing, the pens were raised individually and fed into the 
raising tool by hand and the average output of the 'Raiser' was one lot of 
pens per day, i.e. 18,720. In the early days, and this is what I am dealing with 
for the moment, when the pens were fed into the raising guides, as they were 
called, the 'Raiser' pulled the handle of the fly press and the raising punch 
descended with considerable force on top of the pen. The presses used for 
this operation were double sided hand presses which exerted a very 
considerable pressure. As in the case of the original marking operations the 
'Raisers' ran a considerable risk of pinching the forefinger of the left hand in 
the raising tool and this was a very unpleasant injury which by insistence 
upon the use of hand press guards has now been virtually eliminated. One of 
the difficulties in raising a pen was once the pen had been formed by the 
punch it had to be extracted from the raising bed, and although in most 
cases there was a spring loaded peg in the bed, this did not push the pen out 
of its position laterally. To do this the women raisers used to hold a stick 
in their right hand and at the end of the stick there was a leather pad 
attached by a pin and as the raising punch went back the operators used to 
sweep this bit of leather across the die and sweep the pen away with it 

The timing required very great accuracy because not only were they 
concerned with sweeping away the raised pen, but they also had to pick up 
the next pen with their left hand to put into the die. I have remarked in my 
paragraph on blanking that pens were identified in some cases by a raising 
bit so that the operator could make certain that the mark which was already 
on the pen was placed downwards. Some Raisers were known as bit raisers 
and some as mark raisers. In other words the bit raiser went by feel and the 
mark raiser went by eyesight. When the Reader stops to think that 18,720 
nibs had to be selected from a pile on the left of the press, transferred to the 
raising die, raised and actually extracted by means of a bit of leather on the 
end of a stick, at the rate of 18,720 a day, he or she will appreciate that 
whatever was earned was truly earned. 




Coa! fired furnaces tor hardening and/or annealing pens. 

Circa 1850 

Before describing the ways in which these two operations have been carried 
out over the last 50 years, I think I should start off by telling a story which I 
was told in 1930. Before the days of gunpowder, during the course of a 
battle, two soldiers were one night using their swords for a purpose quite 
unconnected with killing the enemy. They had impaled a piece of meat on 
their swords and were cooking it over an open fire. Suddenly and 
unexpectedly the Orderly Officer of the day was heard approaching on his 
rounds. Both Soldiers immediately scraped the pieces of meat off the ends of 
their swords and one put the red hot sword tip into a bucket of cold water 
which happened to be standing nearby. The other soldier threw his sword 
with the red hot point into the undergrowth, and when the Officer of the 
Day arrived both soldiers were simply sitting round the fire. Next day they 
both went into battle and when the first soldier used his sword in anger the 
point snapped off, the second soldier when he too used his sword against the 
enemy found that instead of skewering his assailant his sword bent at the 


A lesson may be learnt about the process of hardening and tempering 
carbon steel from this story. In the case of the first soldier the sword was red 
hot, probably at about 800°C, but because he put it into a bucket of cold 
water the instant cooling had the effect of hardening the tip of the sword. In 
the case of the second soldier the fact that he threw the sword away into the 
undergrowth had allowed it to cool slowly, having the effect of annealing 
the sword, that is making it soft. In order to harden and temper carbon steel 
in the 1930's, and I say this because methods have changed in recent years, 
it was necessary to heat the pens to a temperature of 800/850° C, then to 
quench them into either cold oil or water to make them brittle, and then to 
temper them back which meant submitting them to a temperature of approx- 
imately 280°C until the necessary spring temper was achieved When I 
entered my Father's business at the age of 16 one of my first tasks was to 
work in the hardening shop. At that time we used a coal fired 'fire brick' 
muffle in which to heat the pens for hardening. This heat was achieved by 
shovelling coal into the lower part of the furnace, rather like firing a steam 
engine, and the dampers were opened by hand mechanically and when the 
correct temperature had been achieved the furnace was damped down. The 
raised pens, which it will be remembered at that time were soft, were then 
placed in cast iron hardening pots with a lid, and these pots were put into the 
chamber above the coal heated chamber to heat up to a temperature of 
approximately 800°C. This temperature was judged in those days by eye 
and was known as 'cherry red* and when the man working the hardening 
furnace could see that all the pots were 'cherry red' in colour, he allowed the 
work to soak at that colour for at least 20-30 minutes. Then by means of a 
long steel rod with a hook the pots were drawn to the front of the furnace 
and were seized by the hardener with a pair of tongs and were quenched. 
This was done by carrying the hardening pot containing the pens over the 
quench tank which generally consisted of whale oil or seal oil. The lid was 
removed by hooking it over a stake above the quench tank and by a quick 
turn of the wrist the pens were discharged from the hardening pot into a 
basket which stood in the oil quench tank. 

It was only in the case of what were known as 'common pens', that is pens 
which were sold in the cheapest market, that water was used as an economy 
measure in which to quench the work, but the quality of the hardening, that 
is the grain structure, was not as good as the pens which were quenched in 
whale oil. 



This operation follows immediately after hardening and the first step was to 
clean the oil off the pens which had been quenched in oil in a hot degreasing 
solution and dry them off They were then ready for the tempering 
operation. The equipment used for tempering was a gas heated revolving 
barrel which was mounted within an outer casing. The temperature was 
controlled by four or five gas jets which could be regulated from the front 
Whereas the temperature used for hardening was in the range of 800/850°C 
the temperature required for tempering was in the range 280/350°C. The 
Reader will recall that the pens had been put through the earlier operations 
in what were known as lots of 18,720 pens and the tempering barrels were 
designed in such a way that they held one lot of pens. The barrels could be 
tilted or inclined backwards and the pens were put into a hand chute and 
put into the small aperture in the front of the barrel which was then brought 
back to a horizontal position. The process of tempering would normally 
take about 20 minutes to Vi an hour per lot and it must be remembered that 
in those early days there were no pyrometers and a physical check had to be 
taken to see that the pens had reached the correct temper. This was done 
after the first quarter of an hour by extracting a few pens on a ladle which 
was usually referred to as a 'spoon', and crushing the pens with a pair of 
pliers. The normal measure of the correct temper was that the pens had to 
crack longitudinally from point to heel for about half the distance from the 
centre in each direction. In other words if the pens were too brittle they 
snapped from end to end and fell apart in two pieces; whereas if they were 
too soft they could be flattened quite easily without any cracks showing in 
the surface. From experience those who had been doing the job for a long 
time could very easily tell when the pens had the correct spring, by the use of 
a pair of pliers, and indeed to some extent by eye through noting the colour, 
which gave an indication as to whether the Vickers hardness of the pens was 
roughly in the range 392/440. It was important as we shall see later when we 
deal with the operation of colouring, that the pens were discharged 
immediately the correct temper had been achieved. So the barrel was tilted 
and the pens fell onto a long metal tray on which they were evenly spread so 
that the heat did not continue to be generated and soften the pens. When the 
pens had been allowed to cool they were tipped from the tray into the 
workpan and were then ready for the next operation which was known as 
wet scouring. 



Scouring barrels 
for pens. 
Circa 1850. 

Following tempering it was necessary to remove the scaling which had been 
caused by the exposure of the pens to the atmosphere during the process of 
hardening. This was done in my early days by immersing the pens in a 1-10 
solution of sulphuric acid and water or alternatively by immersing them in 
neat hydrochloric acid and the latter was found preferable because it did not 
cause embrittlement of the pens. The acid immersion served to loosen the 
scale after which the pens were put into revolving steel barrels with spikes 
inside with a mixture of dehydrated lime, water and pebble, and they were 
run in these barrels at an approximate speed of 30-35 revolutions per 
minute for a period of 12 hours. This operation was known as wet scouring. 
It served not only to clean the pens but to barrel off any frays which had 
been caused in the blanking operation. It is interesting to note that after the 
wet scouring operation was finished the pens had to be dried off, and this 
was done in a gas heated barrel containing wood dust. The normal type of 
dust was Deal which could readily be obtained from sawdust merchants. 
Deal was an excellent absorbant and dried the pens, thereby preventing any 



Artists impression of a pen hand-grinding room 

Circa 1850 

Not all steel pens were ground but the more expensive and higher quality 
pens were not only "cross ground" but often "straight ground" and "letter 
ground" as well. The process of grinding was not essential to the use of the 
pen and many pens in the cheaper markets of the world were sold without 
any form of grinding at all. 

What is meant by grinding is that a strip approximately l A" in width was 
ground off the hardened and tempered pen from side to side a short distance 
back from the point prior to slitting in order to give greater flexibility to the 
point, this was known as "cross grinding". 

The straight grinding was applied chiefly for the sake of appearance and the 
straight grinding was taken from the point towards the heel of the pen. This 
too has the effect of marginally decreasing the overall thickness of the pen in 
order to achieve greater flexibility towards the point 

The third type of grinding was known as letter grinding; for example in the 
case of the well known 'J pen where the 'J' as I have described previously 
was embossed on the pen, the surface of the 4 J was ground in order to make 
the letter stand out from the rest of the pen. 


The way in which grinding was done was as follows: A 'lot' (130 gross) of 
pens was taken by the operator to the grinding room and placed on the left 
hand side of the grinding wheeLThese grinding wheels were made of wood, 
and emery powder was glued to the wheel in order to form the grinding 
surface. Each pen was then picked up and placed in a pair of hand pliers and 
with a circular movement of the wrist the operator drew the pen across the 
surface of the revolving wheel. One of the most important things was the 
maintenance of the grit and the redressing of the wheels at regular intervals 
in order that the grinding pattern should remain constant. One of the 
unpleasant things about this operation was the dust which was created 
during the process but 50 years ago when I entered the trade extractors were 
provided to remove this dust and these were quite efficient and exposed the 
operator to little or no risk. 


Artist's impression of a pen hand-slitting room. 

Circa 1850 

We have now reached the stage where the pens have been manufactured, 
hardened and tempered and polished up to the stage of slitting. 


Slitting is the operation which divides the point of the pen into two 
equal parts so that when the point is applied to paper the points spread and 
produce a thick or thin stroke according to the pressure exerted 

When I first entered the trade, slitting was all done on hand presses, and 
the slitting tools consisted of two cutters which worked together in the same 
way as the blades of a pair of scissors. The cutting edge of the bottom cutter 
was horizontal and that of the top cutter was ground at an angle so that it 
sheared through the point of the pen first and worked its way back to the 
pierce hole until the pen point was slit right through. 

The pens were located above the bottom cutter by means of guides, a table 
guide was provided on which the heel of the pen rested and the point of the 
pen lay over the bottom horizontal cutter. To control the point of the pen 
exactly centrally over the bottom cutter, two spring guides were provided 
which could be adjusted one way or the other, and as the top cutter came 
down the bottom point guide moved down under spring pressure under the 
top cutter giving clearance for the cutter to move along the horizontal 
length of the bottom cutter. 


When the pens had been slit in this way it was normal to get a fairly high 
percentage of the pens with the right hand point depressed, known as 
'clickers', and to rectify this the girls who operated the presses put the pens 
into what was known as a 'shaking bag* and with one girl at each end of the 
'shaking bag* they shook the pens vigorously which had the effect of clicking 
the depressed point back into position. It is worth noting that whereas the 
work was issued as in other cases to the slitter in lots of 130 gross, or 18,720 
pens, I have known a slitter on a hand press who could slit 260 gross in a day 
of 8 hours or 28,800 seconds which means that the operator in question was 
picking up and putting into the hand press pens at the rate of 1.3 per second 
throughout the working day — it would in my view have earned a place in a 
book of records. 

The slitting operation was much faster than the raising because the 
movement of the tool was much shorter. It is interesting to note that in the 

case of slitters there were two types. One method of slitting was for the 
operator to push the fly of the hand press with the back of the wrist of the left 
hand. The other method was to pull the fly of the hand press towards her 
with the right hand. In the first case the pens were fed with the right hand 
and the movement of the press controlled by the left hand. In the second 
case the pens were fed by the left hand and the movement of the press 
controlled by the right hand. 

It was interesting that these two methods developed and I think it was 
mostly caused by the personal inclination of the operators, although in my 
experience the fastest slitters were those who used the wrist of the left hand. 

Photograph of a 
left-handed sinter, 
taken in the 1950's. 



Following slitting the next operation if required was that of point forming 
although this applied to a limited number of pens only, but those that were 
point formed sold in very large quantities, and probably the most famous 
pens were Macniven and Cameron's Waverley pen and D. Leonardt & 
Co.'s ball pointed pen which was the subject of a patent. 

In the case of the Waverley pen the point forming consisted of turning up 
about 1/32" of the extreme point so that it stood away from the paper and 
prevented scratching. Although in fact this was known as 'turning up the 
point' the way in which it was done was by feeding the pen into the guides of 
the point forming hand press upside down and depressing the point so that 
in the writing position the point was clear of the paper. 

In the case of D. Leonardt & Co.'s ball point pen, which as I have mentioned 
above was the subject of a patent, the object was to make a convex writing 
surface which was extremely smooth and this ball pointing as it was called 
was done by making a raising bed in a piece of steel into which a punch fitted 
with due allowance for the thickness of the raw material. These balling beds 
were very exactly made and the toolmakers concerned took great care of the 
drifts which were used in the same way as the raising drifts were used so that 
the exact form could be repeated. 

There were several other pens which had this point forming operation and I 
remember one in particular which was a Manifold pen, that was made of 
thick material and which was used for making carbon copies. It was 
purchased in great quantities by a firm called J.B. Mallat of Paris and this, 
again, had a ball point in order to avoid scratching as much as possible. 
Strangely one of D. Leonardt & Co.'s customers in Iceland called for a 
series of pens in 4 point widths on which the points were turned down 
towards the paper, thus producing a very clearly defined line. 


We have now reached the stage where the pens are ready for their final 
polish before colouring. 

In the early 1930's the most usual form of media for burnishing the 
pens was white granite chippings which came from Welsh stone. These 
granite chippings were available from recognised pebble and stone suppliers 
in Birmingham. One of the best known names in this particular trade was 
the firm of E.W. Richards of Park Road Sand Mines, Birmingham and it 
was a boast of this firm that they never had to send out a traveller to get 
orders, so great and consistent was the demand for their polishing stones in 
all grades. 


It was customary to put into the stone a very small quantity of lard oil and 
the consistency of the stone was judged to be correct when one could pick up 
a handful of the mixture, and observe the oil and stones slightly clinging to 
each other before separating. 

The pens were put into the same type of barrel as we used for the wet scour 
operation and were run for approximately 12 hours, after which they had a 
deep lustre and after further barrelling in polishing dust they shone as 
though they had been hand polished, which showed up after the final 
colouring operation which I shall deal with next. 

Unlike the deal dust which was used for drying off the pens following wet 
scouring, the type of dust used for burnishing the pens in their final polish 
was a hard dust, such as 'beech' or 'birch' and here again these grades of dust 
could readily be bought from sawdust merchants who kept the dust from 
different timbers separately. 


The final colour for pens was of course dictated by the Customers and they 
could be either bronze or blue or indeed gold plated should the Customer 
demand them. I will deal with each in turn. 


Artists impression of the orginal method for 
colouring or bronzing pens. Circa 1850. 


The bronzing of the pen was done in exactly the same type of barrel as that 
used for tempering the pens and it may be of interest to some readers to give 
the colour which is obtained through various degrees centigrade:- 


221.1 Very pale yellow 

226.7 Light yellow 

232.2 Pale straw-yellow 

237.8 Straw-yellow 

243.3 Deep straw-yellow 

248.9 Dark yellow 

254.4 Yellow-brown 

260.0 Brown-yellow 

265.6 Spotted red-brown 

271.1 Brown-purple 

276.7 Light purple 

282.2 Full purple 

287.8 Dark purple 

293.3 Full blue 

298.9 Dark blue 
337.8 Light blue 

It will be seen from the above table that a certain heat produces a certain 
colour but of course in those days there were no controlled pyrometers and 
one could not do as one can today, that is immerse the pens in a tempering 
solution at a controlled temperature, but one had to do it by eye, and just as 
one tested the pens during the tempering operation by fishing a few out of 
the revolving barrel with a metal spoon, so one did the same with colouring. 
What one had to be very careful about was that one tipped out the pens onto 
the tray before they had reached the colour needed, because colour 
continued to deepen even after they left the barrel because of the heat which 
they were holding. 


The final operation before 'looking over' or 'viewing' and subsequently 
boxing and labelling was the lacquering process. 

In the early 1930's and indeed later the lacquering department was a special 
room which was kept completely free from dust. The actual lacquering 
solution was a mixture of methylated spirits and orange or lemon shellac 
and this solution was prepared by the man in charge of the lacquering shop. 
The process was as follows: - The pens were put into an open top wire basket 


and were then dipped into the lacquering solution, they were then removed 
from the solution, allowed to drain for a few moments and then the basket 
was put into a spinner which was operated by a motor driven belt which 
threw ofFthe surplus lacquer, which was used again. Following this the pens 
were put into a horizontal wire basket and were spun round at a 
considerable speed until the lacquer dried. As it dried the pens were left with 
a white coating and when this had been achieved they were again tipped out 
onto a tray and put into a gas heated, open fronted barrel similar to the 
colouring barrel and the tempering barrel. This barrel was heated by gas jets 
and had the effect of baking the lacquer. Not only did it bake the lacquer till 
it was quite dry but the effect of this was to produce a sheen on the nibs of a 
high standard. At this point the processes for the manufacture of the steel 
pen have been completed. 


I am by no means an expert on the processes of electroplating and 
throughout my commercial life have always relied on the experts made 
available to me by W. Canning & Co. Ltd., of Birmingham and have never 
hesitated to avail myself of their laboratory advice whenever this has been 


Nickel Plating 

When I first entered the trade the process of barrel nickel plating was very 
poor compared with what it is today and in my own business we had 
earthenware barrels which revolved in a nickel solution. In those days it was 
not a bright nickel solution, and in order to obtain brightness steel stars 
were mixed with the work so that they had a burnishing effect as the nickel 
was being applied electrolytically, but the result was very poor compared 
with the very high standard of brightness which is achieved today by 
modern solutions. Furthermore a great disadvantage was that after plating 
the steel stars had to be separated from the work by hand on sorting trays. 
One of my earliest recollections of nickel plating is of a nickel anode being 
suspended in an open fronted hexagonal barrel which revolved and applied 
the nickel plate electrolytically to the work to a depth of approximately 
.0002\ " 

Copper Plating 

It was not unusual for pens to be sold with a barrel copper finish and this 
was done in the same way as nickel plating, it also provided a base for gold 
plating, or barrel brassing on top of the copper. 


Barrel Brassing 

This was a finish which was used for very cheap markets where a gold 
colour, i.e. 'couleur d'or' was applied which, although not containing any 
real gold, gave a gilt finish which satisfied the demands of the cheap 
markets. As far as I was concerned one of the most usual markets for this 
types of finish was Greece. 

Gold Plating 

When I first went into the trade there was a considerable demand for gilt 
pens. The normal practice was to copper the pens before applying the gold, 
and having coppered them, the pens were then threaded back-to-back 
through the pierce-hole onto wire, with a glass bead between each nib to 
prevent nesting. They were then immersed in an enamel "gilding bucket" 
into which the electrical current was fed, and shaken about by hand on their 
wires until the correct deposit had been achieved. 


Photograph of "looking over" pens on glass 
Taken in ihe 1950's. 


The name given to the inspection of pens was 'looking over'. This was done 
on a well lighted bench and the pens to be looked over were placed at the 
back of the bench and were drawn down by the 'Lookers over' over a piece 
of frosted glass. 

It used to take a number of months to train 'lookers over' because they had 
to look for a great many things. Nibs were lined up by them with great 
dexterity along the edge of the glass and they virtually had to pick out a 
defect in any of the manufacturing operations which made up a steel pen, 
and as the reader now knows there were many operations. 

For many years the categories for 'lookers over' consisted of 'perfect'nibs 
which were dropped over the edge of the glass down a chute into a container, 
and 'seconds' which were dropped into another container alongside. These 
'seconds' were pens which would write correctly but had some other minor 
defect which made them less than perfect. For example a bad mark, bad 
colour, slightly twisted raising, grinding which was uneven,which although 
not turning them into defective writing instruments made them less than 
perfect. In the case of my own Company these 'seconds' pens were sold in 
less sophisticated markets where orders depended more on price than 
perfection of quality. Very often these 'seconds' pens were sold as an 
assortment in an assorted box of one gross, but care had always to be taken 
to see that only those pens which bore the imprint of the Manufacturer were 
included in these sales of 'seconds' pens and great care had to be taken to see 
that all 'seconds' pens bearing a Customer's imprint were scrapped. In fact 
when these specially marked pens were 'looked over' there was no distinction 
between a 'seconds' pen and a scrap pen! The only category which was 
allowed to pass through were pens which appeared to be perfect 

Sometimes for very cheap markets the only fault which was looked for was 
that pens had not been slit and to detect this, instead of lining the pens along 
the edge of the glass, the 'lookers over' were trained to drop them on the 
glass and the non slit pens would make a loud tinkle compared with the 
muted sound of a slit pen. It was obvious that a pen which had not been slit 
would not write at all, whereas although a pen which had been slit slightly 
out of centre would not write as well as a correctly slit pen, it would write 
and therefore was allowed to go through. 

When the pens had been looked over the next stage was the process of 
boxing and labelling. 



The normal practice was to use small cardboard boxes containing either 
one gross, (i.e. 144 pens) or 100 pens. These boxes were made from straw 
board and normally lined with white paper and in the case of my own 
Company the boxes were bought from a Manufacturer of cardboard boxes. 
Many firms actually manufactured their own boxes. 

The process of boxing was done by girls who were trained in the use of 
Jewellers balancing scales, that is they counted out one gross of pens, or 100, 
whichever the case was, and balanced a gross against the counted gross, by 
depressing the thumb lever on the balancing scales. The indicating needle 
told them whether it was overweight or underweight and they very quickly 
acquired the habit of adding or subtracting to arrive at the correct balance. 

The 'Weigher' as she was called tipped the balanced quantity into a small 
scoop which was then passed to the girl who was doing the actual boxing 
and she again with great dexterity directed the pens into the cardboard box 
using the cupped hand to prevent overspill. 

In some cases the labels were already stuck to the boxes but in most cases a 
plain box was used and what was known as a strip label was put round the 
box to secure the lid. The normal pack for pens was 25 boxes each of one 
gross with the exception of India for it had been the custom in the Sub 
Continent of India to invoice pens as 'great grosses' which consisted of 12 
boxes of one gross and this pack was used exclusively for India as far as I can 
remember. In the early 30's the self adhesive labels were not used and glue 
pots were used by the Labellers when they put the strip labels round the 
boxes.These cast iron glue pots were put into an outer container of boiling 
water to keep the glue solvent and the girls with the glue brush spread the 
glue on the back of the label ready for the Labeller to put them on the box. 

As far as the boxes themselves were concerned great importance was 
attached to the fact that the boxes should be dry before being used because 
most of the pens were made of ferrous steel and were therefore subject to 
rust in spite of the protection of the lacquering process and any damp 
coming out of the cardboard added to the danger of rust. Nowadays it is 
possible to put small pieces of rust prevention paper into boxes containing 
steel parts, which prevents the damp spreading to the contents. 

I hope that in the previous chapters I have been able to convey a fairly 
realistic picture of the operations required for the production of the steel 
pen as it existed in the 1930's and I shall now write a chapter in which I shall 
try to show how pens were marketed in the 1930's. 




When I entered the Pen Trade in 1930 the output from the Birmingham 
Pen Manufacturers was estimated to be 10 million gross pens per annum. 
Although this quantity seems very large it must be remembered that at that 
time there were no ball pens or fibre tip pens, only the fountain pen was 
there to challenge the sales of the dipped pen nib. 

The World was our market and the number of patterns ran into many 
hundreds, for pens were produced to meet the requirements of the style of 
handwriting which different Countries preferred. For example the school 

pens used in France were very fine pointed, whereas pens used in schools in 
Arabic writing Countries were stubby and broad. In some cases the 
difference in patterns was considerable, whereas in others a very small 
difference in shape or style occurred, but the width of point could vary 

I have mentioned earlier in this book that some of the larger Companies 
specialized in the advertising and sale of pens marked with their own 
name, and the larger firms like Perry Pens built up an enormous demand for 
pens with their own imprint which suited requirements of the local 
markets. In some cases particular pens had a style which was patented, for 
example in the case of D. Leonardt & Company their famous range of ball 
pointed pens, and by this I mean a convex tip which made the writing 
smoother, was protected by patent. These particular pens were sold mostly 
in the (Countries within the old British Empire, such as India, Australia, 
New Zealand and many others, and a story has been told that Mr. Glass of 
the firm of Ormiston & Glass who had the sole selling rights for the British 
Empire went round the World with a box of pen nibs in his pocket as his 
only samples and booked vast orders for the famous number 516 pen which 
was known throughout the Empire. It is also said that on one occasion Mr. 
Glass rode down the Mall on a horse and scattered what looked like 
sovereigns onto the road but which were in fact advertising discs for his pen. 

As I have mentioned earlier Macniven and Cameron built up a vast sale for 
their 'Pickwick Owl and Waverley pens', and in the case of the Waverley this 
has a turned up point rather than a convex point, which again took the 
extreme point ot the pen off the paper and made writing smoother. 


4 ^ . 

* ■ 


1 JD 

2 8p6- . 


Hessih & Co., 


<^ Birmingham! 

* s 


ET tiob MCTUE. 

ntcirrcnco thadc mark. 






|^1^BHess;h Birmingham. 


. * 

An early catalogue of T. Hessin & Co. Shown actual size. 


Magnetic Series. 

Per Pox of 12 .I02. 


^^—^r — •SIL ..31m ache til fil Mtds in 1 ::ie, Medium, ami 1/0 
' . •vllMilft^tfrflt rBTW liroad Points. Copper 


^-^^^Tir^s iTTb" Siemens pens. 

c=3SlEMfNS PEN_J Strong Flue Point. 

2 0 


^^J^'bi! f 'tfM 1 i'JJ W x incandescent pen. 

"^^^^g^^^^^EN) pair* Kmc Point 



) *?o H ™" c i pen 

J "'" 0O—iliEa— ^^^^^^^^^^ Bronze. 



^^H' --^y ^y|i|(i|i[p Ver> s,, "J° th ft™" 1 PolDt 

2 6 


.^arfgEljf^W f WHU"c ^ S DYNAMO PEN. 
"^^u^ jj ^ ^^^^SIS J TMWWdgP Point. 



cC^^^^^^^^U^^^ 'pI^ Floxlbl*' Medium Pol t 



Barrel Pen*. 

Ono Doion in a Box with Holder. 





Uj^^^^ 1 " w "*f 0 FCJNTAI 1 !? PE^" | Brooze. 






--^nDin^?^'T^V~'^" T. HESSINHC? 


1 6/0 


-■Ep^'CrfaSI 1 J ^< No 90 9 



^^jgf ' BIRMINGHAM, j Bronz*. 





Discount orders of less than VI gross 33!% ; l'J grass ami over 50 %. 

Page 17 from the T. Hessin Catalogue 1896 


John Mitchell sold pens in France and Belgium which were known as 'Les 
plumes ballon.' These were very fine pointed, beautifully made, steel pens 
and on them was an embossed balloon and they became almost a household 
name in Belgium and France. Joseph Gillot became famed for his drawing 
pens, among them the famous numbers 303 and 404. 

William Mitchell were known especially for their Gothic pens which were 
pens covering about 1 2 different writing widths and generally mounted on a 
card and sold with a pen holder. Another famous pen was Hinks Wells 'J' 
pen which was finished blue or black with an embossed l J, which was very 
often ground to make it stand out. C. Brandauer were known throughout 
the world for certain patterns among them the 'Times', 'Mail', and 'Review' 
which were sold in Australia and elsewhere. 

Geo W. Hughes had many pens which were known by particular names and 
I remember one called 'Platernal' which had a reservoir and was very well 
known in Greece. Indeed every Maker developed a large or small range of 
pens which came to be known throughout the world. 

I remember in the case of my Father's Company we sold a pen called a 
'Magnetic Electric pen number 520'. These pens were finished by barrel 
coppering the polished steel, following this they were magnetized and in 
the 1930's the 'Hawkers' in the Bull Ring in Birmingham used to hang these 
pens in a chain and would stand on the edge of the pavement calling people's 
attention to their wares. In some cases they would float them in a glass of 
water to show that they would point to the North due to the magnetism. 

# # # 



..e_r~ ARE THE &yes>» 




The following is a selection of 12 of our best selling 
Patterns, which no Stationer should be without, as the 
demand for these Pens is very extensive. 

^ — - 

id. Sample Card, containing: One Pen of each, ov the following: 

12 Patterns, 7/- per gross Cards net- 


Mr era* 

No. 220 Glide Pen 

1 2 

3 doz.l 

No. 221 Edinburgh Pen 1/3 3 „ 

No. 223 Swallow Pen 1 2 3 „ 

3/ U N 

No. 303 Mercantile Fen' i - 3 > < 


No. 498 Conway Pen l 6 3 „ 

No. (29 Riflmnau Pen 1/6 ■ 3 „ 

No. 507 J PEN 

1/6 1 3 -„ 

No. 5ai Parcel Post Pen 2 

2 .. 

No. 542 Fawcett Pen ! 1 * 

No. 567 Battery Pen 2/6 

2 „ 


No. 569 Tender Pen 2 6 2 „ 

Accommodation Box, containing 12 rem eaoh,.12 favourite patterns, 

1/6 per box. 

Discount orders of less than 12 gross 33J% ; 12 gHMI and over 50,£. 

Page 12 from the T. Hcssin Catalogue. 1896 



The outlets in 1930 fell into various classes. First of all there was the sale of 
the proprietary pens which I have briefly touched on above, which became 
known by their name, and many Buyers would not consider a substitute. 
These were sold in this Country through the Wholesale Stationers, such as 
W.H. Haydon of London and other well known firms who would in turn 
supply Banks and Offices, Insurance Companies etc., etc. The other outlets 
in England were the vast quantities of pens which were bought by the 
County Council Authorities, such as London County Council, The West 
Riding of Yorkshire, The Liverpool Corporation and many others, and 
annually these Authorities would invite Manufacturers to quote for their 
requirements which could represent anything from 10,000 to 20,000 gross 
of pens for each Authority. 

H.M. Stationery Office also bought a great quantity of pens and they had in 
fact about 12 patterns for the use of Post Offices and other Government 
departments, and all these pens were marked S. Crown O with a code 
number and the initial of the Maker. 


All the Railway Companies invited quotations for their annual requirements 
and bought pens with their special imprints. Another very considerable 
output was through Educational Wholesalers among them such firms as E. 
J. Arnold & Son of Leeds, A. Brown & Sons of Hull, The Educational 
Supply Association of London, Thomas Hope of Manchester, Philip and 
Tacey of London and Charles Thurnam of Carlisle. These firms had built 
up very large businesses to supply the Education Authorities with all 
manner of Education requirements such as paper, desks, maps, drawing 
instruments and naturally ink pots and pens. All these firms insisted on 
having pens marked with their own name and their contracts were very 
keenly sought after for they represented a very large output of pen nibs. I 
have mentioned earlier that the only firm that I can remember who did not 
supply these Educational Wholesalers, or indeed any of the Local 
Authorities, with pens imprinted with their own name, was Geo. W. 
Hughes, but what he did was to send a Traveller around the schools and 
sought an interview with the Head Teachers to persuade them that Hughes 
pens were the best quality available, and in many cases he was successful in 
getting the schools to ask the Wholesalers to buy these particular branded 
pens, and for many years he automatically got the orders because he was the 
only one who could sell pens with that particular imprint. 

Naturally the sales in England were very small compared with the export 
orders, some of which completely eclipsed the quantities which were sold in 
this Country. 


In my own particular case I remember well the order for the Dutch East 
Indies which then included among others the main islands of Borneo, Java 
and Sumatra and the annual requirements for one particular pen which was 
known as the Crown or Spring Back pen amounted to 365 thousand gross or 
1,000 gross for every day of the year, and this was only a small quantitiy of 
the total number of patterns which were bought by the Dutch East Indies 

Most of this trade at that time was done through Holland, and Exporting 
Houses based in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague handled the sales 
to the Indies where they had their Offices. Here again the competition was 
enormously keen and for the big Government contract which perhaps 
amounted to Vi million gross of pens the price at one time was as low as 
threepence farthing per box of one gross of pens delivered GIF Batavia. This 
at a time when there was little automation and most of the operations of 
manufacture were being performed on hand presses. 

Another market in that part of the World was Siam, now known as 
Thailand, and there was a particularly popular pattern known as the 'spear 
pointed' pen which sold in that Country. 

There was the vast market of India and the most popular patterns in that 
Country at the peak of British exports were the Red Ink Pen, which was 
made of nickel silver, the famous Waverley type pen originated by 
Macniven and Cameron to which I have already referred, and the Hindoo 
pen made by the same Company. In addition the demand for the yellow 
metal pen, similar in shape to Esterbrooks' famous 'Relief pen' was very 
popular in the Indian Market. 

The demand in Egypt was very considerable and I well remember that we 
manufactured pens in my own business in the 30's for the Egyptian 
Government and all the nibs were marked in Arabic. 

The South African Government with headquarters in Trafalgar Square 
placed a large order annually for school pens and I was delighted soon after 
the 1939-45 war to obtain this contract. 

Another big buyer was the Sudan Government who bought not only great 
quantities of school pens but also the penholder sticks and metal holders to 
go with them. 

After the Great War one of the most important Suppliers of pens to Algeria 
and Morocco was the firm of J.B. Mallat & Co. whose headquarters were in 
Paris, but who also had an office in Antwerp. This firm did not manufacture 
steel pens but placed large orders with British Manufacturers and the 


patterns selected tended to follow the French demand for very fine pointed 
pens. In this market there was one exception known as the Manifold or 
Carbon pen which was very strong and was used for making copies ofletters 
and other documents. 

I well remember soon after I entered the trade at the age of 17 travelling to 
Brussels and then to Antwerp to call on J.B. Mallat at a time when one 
travelled by Sabena Line which was one of the first airlines to allow 
smoking during a flight. In the case of my Father's Company our exports to 
Europe were not large but in the case of D. Leonardt & Co. with whom later 
I became associated, they enjoyed a wonderful trade in Countries such as 
Latvia, Lithuania and listonia which are now Soviet Baltic republics. At one 
time Leonardts had their pens manufactured in Germany and received a 
Royalty on the sales of exports to the Eastern European Countries. 

The South American Continent was again an enormous market for pens 
and although it was those larger firms who had established their trade 
names which took the bulk of the trade, my own Company sold pens in most 
of the important markets in South America and I remember in the case of 
Columbia we once exported a consignment of pens to Bogota intended for 
use in schools. These pens were known as 'Falcon' pens and alas the packing 
cases in which they were sent had been made 2" too wide and because they 
could not be put into the panniers of mules to be taken up the mountains to 
the schools they were all returned to our factory for repacking,- a harsh 
lesson for incompetence which cost a lot of money but it taught those 
responsible not to make the same mistake again. 

It would be interesting to digress for a moment to comment upon the very 
exact systems which were adopted for the exportation of pens. As I have 
remarked in another chapter, the usual pack was 25 boxes each containing 1 
gross wrapped in a parcel. In the case of D. Leonardt & Co. one of their 
Senior Clerks prepared what was known as the 'Bible' and if for example 
one wished to send 3,000 gross of pens No. 516 one referred to the 'Bible' 
which told you, you required one No. 37 case and specified the dimensions 
in inches and centimetres.Furthermore if you looked in the'Bible' under the 
number 5 16 you were instantly told the weight of 3,000 gross pens so when 
it came to completing the export documents reference to The Bible' made it 
an automatic procedure to fill in the correct weights and measurements for 
the Shipping Companies- 
Mistakes in those days were very few and far between! 


In the years prior to the second World War it was not usual for any of the 
British Pen Manufacturers to have their own Selling Houses overseas and 
the usual practice was to appoint an Agent who worked on a commission 
basis and represented one's interests abroad, and in my own case we had 
many Agents and in later years when I became associated with D. Leonardt 
& Co. we had many more and it was the practice as far as possible to visit 
one's Agents at regular intervals in order to encourage them to promote 

No. 220. Glide. 
•• 223. Swallow. 
« 226. School. 
- 498. Conway. 

No. 499. Rifleman, j No. 549. 40. Pen. 

- 507. J. Pen. I - 554,Sloper. 
» 508.Five Slit. | - 556. Euclid. 

- 541. Parcel Post. I - 569. Thunder. 

Price 1/6 per Box 
Discount orders of less than 12 gross, 33.',% ; 12 gross and over 50%. 
Orders oi 12 boxes and upwards sent carriage paid to any address. 




In the preceding chapters I have tried to give an accurate description of the 
various processes connected with the manufacture of a steel pen, together 
with the methods used for selling the pens. I shall now devote the final 
chapter of my book to explain the ways in which the old methods of 
manufacture have been improved, developed and combined, finally ending 
in complete automation. 

In describing the advances which have been made I think one must 
constantly refer to the list of seventeen operations which are listed on page 
nine, for it was from these that automation developed. 

I suppose that with certain exceptions it would be fair to say that the most 
important change in introducing automation was "that you held on to what 
you wanted, instead of throwing away what you wanted". 

In the old days once a pen had been blanked out it had to be picked up, or 
oriented in some way before the next operation could be performed. This 
meant a hand operation which in the early days was very inexpensive. One 
of the firms with whom I was closely associated John Mitchell of Moland 
Street, Birmingham, tackled the problem by an intermediate stage and 
what they did was to blank the pens on a hand press into a magazine. The 
magazine when full was attached to another machine which revolved in a 
horizontal plain and each blank was discharged from the magazine by a 
'knife' and red into the guide on the piercing machine. It was carried round 
on a circular table and pierced and marked at two different stations, and 
finally discharged. This meant that hand piercing and stamp marking had 
been eliminated as far as hand operations were concerned and the pen was 
then ready for annealing and raising. 

At about the same time rotary raising machines were devised and following 
the annealing process the pens were fed manually into vertical guides 
outside the tool area and were carried round between the raising die and 
punch and were raised in the vertical plane. When they had been raised they 
fell out of the guides freely. This method of course necessitated the single 
handling of each nib into the guide and the process of automation had not 
yet been completed. 



Probably the next step was the amalgamation of cutting, piercing, marking 
and raising in a Progression Tool. To achieve this the pens were made from 
coil steel which had been sheared to the correct width. The first operation in 
the progression tooling was piercing, followed by marking, following which 
the outline of the pen was cut out and the only place at which it was still held 
in the strip was at the heel. Having freed the pen from the strip it could then 
be raised between a punch and die. The final step in the progression was to 
sever the heel from the strip. 

Photograph showing a strip of progressive tooling, 
which covered all operations 1 - 6 

It will be appreciated that in order to achieve this progression very accurate 
feeding was required and there were various ways of controlling the length 
of the feed. In some cases where extreme accuracy was unecessary it was 
sufficient to rely on a roll feed or a gripper feed which pushed the steel 
through the press tool at controlled intervals and set distances. However if 
absolute accuracy is sought the normal method is to use what are 
called 'pilots' whereby the press feed feeds the strip as near as possible to its 
required distance and then releases it. The pilots then come down and take 
control of it so that it is exactly located when the punches do their work. 


Having achieved this type of progression it then became necessary to use 
annealed steel in such a state that it could be raised and follow the correct 
form, whereas, as I have explained in an earlier chapter, the original method 
was to blank and pierce out of hard rolled steel, which tended to produce a 
cleaner bank and pierce hole. This therefore was one of the things one lost 
when trying to cut out labour and achieve more economical production. 



As explained in an earlier chapter, following raising the next operation was 
heat treatment, i.e. hardening and tempering. The present method, which 
offers a great advance on the old system, is that the pens are hardened in 
what is known as a Shaker Hearth. This is an electric furnace and the pens 
pass through on a heat resistant chromium hearth for a regulated time, and 
the progress of the pens is controlled by a cam which jerks them forward in 
much the same way as a passenger in a motor car is jerked forward when the 
car stops suddenly. At the end of the tunnel the pens, at a temperature of 
850°C are discharged into a basket in a tempering bath which contains a 
solution of sodium nitrate/ sodium nitrite at a temperature of approximately 
360° C. One of the great advantages of this method of hardening is that it 
incorporates an endothermic gas plant whereby a screen of lighted gas 
prevents the atmosphere from entering the furnace and the result of this is 
that when the pens are discharged into the tempering salts they are scale 
free. They are allowed to soak in the tempering basket for approximately 20 
minutes to half an hour and are then taken out bv means of an electric hoist 
and quenched in water. Nowadays in the case of many carbon steel springs 
completely automatic hardening and tempering flirnaces are used which 
not only heat the components up to the correct temperature but 
automatically discharge them from the tempering and water quench tank 
when they have gone through the full process. 


The Reader will remember that one of the things that enabled the Hardener 
to judge the correct heat was looking for a colour of cherry red by eye but 
nowadays a Shaker Hearth furnace is fitted with an automatic pyrometer 
setting which ensures that temperatures are correct and it is not difficult to 
produce a hardened and tempered article automatically in the range of 
Rockwell C 40/44. By reason of the fact that the pens have no scale, but 
merely a blue discolouration the subsequent polishing operations have been 
made very much easier. 


Following tempering the cleaning and de-burring operation is carried out, 
but the equipment is the same as for operation thirteen, polishing, (see page 
45) a vibratory bowl taking the place of the old scouring barrels. 


We next come to the question of grinding which has been described in an 
earlier chapter. I know of only one machine which was devised for grinding 
the pens and that again was in the Company with which I was very closely 
associated, John Mitchell who devised a semi automatic machine which 
would straight grind and cross grind. The pens were fed one by one into 
guides which were mounted on a circular carrying bar which carried them 
round the machine and passed them under grinding wheels which either 
cross ground or straight ground according to the demand of the Customer. 

However this still remained an expensive operation and the practice grew of 
using a marking punch to give the appearance of grinding across the point. 
This was a method which enabled the Manufacturers to introduce it into 
the early stages of automation and as the coil passed through the power press 
which cut, pierced and marked the blanks, it could at the same time provide 
an imprint,or what in fact was imitation grinding,giving almost the same 
appearance of grinding on a carborundum wheel, but of course lacking the 
qualities of hand grinding for two reasons: One, this imprint was put on 
before the hardening and tempering of the pen; and Two, not haying the 
effect of making the pens slightly thinner k did not add to the flexibility. It 
was what I suppose people today would call a cheap imitation in the 
interests of economy, but it was accepted and therefore sold. 



Following grinding came the operation of slitting the pens which again I 
have described in an earlier chapter showing the method which was 
originally used. Some Readers may ask why it was not possible to put the 
slitting into an automatic progression tool and bring the pens off the power 
press ready for heat treatment. It was possible to make pens which were 
made from brass or nickel silver in this way and the method which was used 
was for the slit to be put in the blank held in the strip before raising,and 
when the pen was raised the slit was closed by the pressure of the raising 
punch so when the pen came off the press it was in fact finished. This was 
not possible in the case of a carbon steel pen which had to be hardened and 
tempered because if the pens were slit before heat treatment the effect of 
hardening was to spread the points open, thus making them valueless. 
Therefore it was accepted, even by the largest Pen Manufacturers, that 
slitting had to be done after heat treatment and by some means of semi 
automation. There may have been methods with which I am not familiar 
but one of the most successful which I have used myself and which was used 
very successfully by the well known firm Macniven and Cameron was to 
provide the motive force by electricity while retaining the method of slitting 
as used on hand presses as described in an earlier chapter. 

Slitting cutters were mounted in a die set and these die sets were put on a 
bench underneath a revolving shaft which was driven by an electric motor. 
Cams were mounted on the shaft which as they revolved depressed the lop 
of the die set and moved the top slitting cutter down in a vertical direction. 
The speed could easily be regulated by means of pullies or a variable speed 
motor so that the top die set could be depressed at the rate of one stroke a 
second or two strokes a second according to the speed which suited the 
operator. By this means the operators no longer had to activate the fly of the 
hand press because the tool was constantly going up and down in front of 
them and the skill lay in getting the synchronization of timing correct; in 
other words if the top slitting cutter was moving up and down at one a 
second, the girls had to locate the point of the pen in the guides as soon as the 
top cutter was free from the bottom cutter and hold the pens in position 
until the top cutter came down and put in the slit. When this method was 
first introduced it took a long time for the operators to get accustomed to the 
correct timing, and to start off what normally happened was that they 
missed one stroke of the press altogether and fed every other one, but with 
practice as always great skill followed and whereas to start off they were 
slitting probably one pen every two seconds, they finished up by being able 
to slit two pens in a second. It was unfortunate in many ways that this 
development came almost at the time when the demand for steel pens was 


fading for had it been used in the earlier days the result would have been a 
great improvement in productivity. Indeed it is true to say that many 
methods which were thought up and put into practice during the 160 years 
since the steel pen trade began are now no longer used for the simple reason 
that there is no great demand for pen nibs but these inventions were not lost 
and many of them have been applied to other small metal objects such as 
pocket clips which still sell in great quantities. 

Whilst I am on the subject of slitting it is worth remarking that the advent of 
carbide tipped slitting cutters was another great help to slitting toolmakers 
for these retained their cutting edge for much longer. 

There are six other operations, numbers 12 to 17 inclusive and as far as 
these are concerned it will suffice to restrict myself to a short paragraph on 
each because there have been no major changes as far as automation is 
concerned, principally due to the fact that the demand did not justify it. 


In view of the limited number of pens sold with formed points the method of 
hand press point forming has not to my knowledge been changed. 



There have been changes in the method of polishing. To some extent this 
was due to the fact that the Welsh granite is no longer available and the 
tendency nowadays is to use a large variety of grades in ceramic chippings. 
These chippings are placed in open circular vibratory polishing machines 
which can easily be discharged when the polishing operation is finished by 
the use of a magnetized moving tray, and removes the extreme physical 
effort of taking "shaking cans," as used in the early days, out of the frames, 
picking them up and emptying them by hand. This new type of polishing is 
now widely used for other small metal articles, but by the time they came on 
the market need for them in respect of pen nibs had disappeared. 


As far as I am concerned although it is possible to colour pens by immersing 
them in a chemical we still use the old fashioned colouring barrel which has 
been described in an earlier chapter and similarly use the same method for 


In many cases pens are still examined physically before being despatched 
but the usual method of quality control inspection today is to look at a 
specific number of articles out of a specific batch. The number required is 
laid down by the British Standards Specification and if out of the number 
selected less than the given quantity of waste is found, the whole batch is 

An example of 
modern Quality- 
Control equipment. 


passed. If however above the given quantity is found to be scrap a further 
sample is looked at, and if this too does not pass the test then the whole batch 
is thrown away or all the articles are examined individually. 


This has not materially changed since the methods I have described in an 
earlier chapter, for the decrease in demand has made it unecessary to devise 
ways of boxing more speedily. I have no doubt that had the demand of long 
ago still existed electronic weighing and boxing machines would have been 
devised which would virtually have eliminated female labour. 

This concludes my account of the changes which took place between 
the years 1930 and 1980 and as the reader will see this account deals 
principally with the technical side of carbon steel pen making, with a short 
account of the method of selling and with some reference to the different 
markets of the world, together with some supporting photographs and 

Maybe one day I shall be prompted to write another book dealing not with 
the technical side of this old trade, but more with the social aspects and 
conditions of work of those with whom I have worked nearly all my life, 
coupled with my own experiences in the pre-war years at T. Hessin & Co. 

and afterwards with the establishment of the Highley Pen Co., the merger 
with D. Leonardt & Co. and the establishment of Mehra Leonardt Pens 
(Pvt) Ltd in partnership with my friends Amarnath and Ramnath Mehra of 
B.N. Mehra & Co. of Bombay, India. 

Who knows? 

A. A.S.C 



Some of the prints in this book appear in the book written by the late 
Mr. Henry Bore over 100 years ago and I am grateful to him. 

Others, also over 100 years old, have been made available to me by Mr. 
Philip Poole who has built up a valuable collection of samples and 

historical facts on The Steel Pen Trade at 182, Drury Lane, London 
WC2B 5QL and his co-operation is appreciated. 

Finally, I dedicate this little volume to my Wife who has made it 
possible by her encouragement, helpful editing, and constructive 

A. A.S.C